April 2008


The outermost layer of the sun is constantly active with turbulence; creating pressure waves or quakes that ripple the surface of the sun; seemingly making the sun “breathe” by heaving the surface up and down in a pattern of peaks and troughs.

The Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has provided data recently showing these quakes that follow the wake of solar flares exploding above the surface of the sun.

The SOHO spacecraft shows scientists how the ripples move around the sun and provides information about the interior of the sun, helping us to understand what goes on there.

There is an unusual regularity to the “breathing” which is a class of vibrations, or oscillations, call the five-minute oscillations. Using SOHO to study these oscillations, scientists have discovered an unexpected correlation with solar flares, particularly the number of flares occurring.

Apparently as the number of flares increase, so does the strength of these five-minute oscillations. In other words, it seems the sun essentially “breathes” deeper and heavier with more solar flares occurring. Similarly on Earth after large earthquakes, the Earth vibrates with seismic waves. It is as if someone hit a church bell and after the loud initial ring, you would still hear the fading sound of the bell’s vibrations as it slowly stills quiet.

The image above was taken by the SOHO spacecraft on November 4, 2003. Shown is hot gas in the solar atmosphere in false color; the flare is the bright, white area on the right edge of the sun. The horizontal line showing through the flare is not real but a condition of the instrument’s detector becoming over saturated from the intense light.




Primaries are scheduled in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6. Senator Obama is generally considered the stronger candidate in North Carolina. Therefore, Indiana, which as of right now appears to be a dead heat, will be decisive for Senator Obama. If he wins there, the game is over. If Senator Clinton wins there, then we continue in extra innings. Senator Obama is focusing on Indiana at this moment.

Time for some levity.

Gary, Indiana!
What a wonderful name,
Named for Elbert Gary of judiciary fame.
Gary, Indiana, as a Shakespeare would say,
Trips along softly on the tongue this way–
Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary, Indiana,
Let me say it once again.
Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana,

I think Senator Obama would be great as Professor Harold Hill in the Music Man.

Seventy six delegates led the big rally With a hundred and ten electors close at hand They were followed by rows and rows of the finest politicos; the cream of every math tally.

Sorry, the last rhyme was a little weak.

Senator Clinton should adopt the mantra of Dorothy when meeting the Good Witch of the East for the last time; wear red patent leather shoes, click your heals and repeat over and over in a last ditch effort to pick up votes.

“There’s no place like Indiana. There’s no place like Indiana. There’s no place like Indiana.”

Perhaps when she awakens, she’ll be in bed with her husband Bill by her side, along with Chelsea. They’ll tell her that she dreamed of being President and of running for election in Oz. Now she’s awake and George Bush has just been elected for a third term, with Vice-President Arnold Swartzenegger. Hillary – you’ve been having a nightmare. No, Hillary says – you all are having the nightmare!

Terry McAuliffe, Senator Clinton’s campaign manager, said that this will all be over by June 15, as he told David Corn, per Corn’s blog post of April 28.

It’ll be over by June 15, then we’ll wrap this baby up.

Yeah, right.




Celebrating the 18th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, 59 new pictures have been released by the Space Science Telescope Institute.

Colliding galaxies

The images are a snapshot back in time. Only one in a million galaxies are caught in the act of colliding.

Collisions resulting in galaxies merging together were common long ago where the material from the big bang was closer together and had not yet expanded out to the extent it has today. The light from these galaxies takes millions of years to cross space. When we see the light it is a view to how the galaxies looked millions of years ago.

Hubble will be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope in 2013.

The new images are available at: http://hubblesite.org/news/2008/16.

Supernova is a British television comedy series that ran in 2005 for 6 episodes and in 2006 for another 6 episodes in the U.K. and in Australia. As the name implies, the action is set around a fictional observatory located at Broken Hill, in New South Wales, Australia; and the subject matter is related to the science of astronomy. supernova1

I enjoy British comedies and also am interested in astronomy, so this series was a win-win for me when one of my local PBS stations, WILL-TV, began running the series a few weeks ago, much to the chagrin of my wife who thinks it’s a bit too geeky for her tastes.

The station has a long history of running British sit-com’s as do many local PBS stations. I really enjoy the more subtle, eclectic humor of Supernova.

For example, Paul, the main character is hanging his wet laundry out to dry on a clothes line in the hot Australian outback where the stories take place; as he gets the last piece of laundry hung out to dry he moves back to the other side of the clothes line and begins to take the laundry down he just hung up seconds before, as it is already dry.

Not a big belly laugh there, but funny – silly in a fun way, without being stupid, and that’s the way of the show. Wikipedia describes it as “following Dr Paul Hamilton, a British astronomer, who leaves a dull academic post and disliked girlfriend for a new job at the Royal Australian Observatory, deep in the Australian outback and centering around his difficulties adjusting to life there and among his eccentric fellow astronomers.”

Below is a list of episode titles:

1. The Black Holes
2. God, Are You Out There?
3. When You Wish Upon a Star
4. Venus Rising
5. Unity
6. Where Men Are Men
7. Wild Oats
8. How’s Your Father?
9. Big Red
10. Perseverance
11. Something Wicked This Way Comes
12. May the Best man Win


More information on the cast and episode descriptions can be found at The British Sitcom Guide and at the Internet Movie Database. I searched for DVD’s of the series and could not find where they had been released in the U.S. I did find a site in the U.K. that was advertising series 1 for sale. I just wanted to put in a plug for the show. It’s a bit quirky, but funny, and it’s not often one gets to see a comedy show where the topic of astronomy is a background theme. Look for it on your local PBS station.



An large solar eruption occurred on the Sun on April 9, 2008. This prominence was captured by the STEREO Ahead spacecraft showing the prominence as it twisted just above the surface of the Sun. The event was also captured by the STEREO Behind spacecraft, Hinode, TRACE and SOHO missions.

I am fascinated by Solar ejectionpictures of the Sun and the various events that occur on it. In a larger view of this picture, which can be found by clicking on the SOHO missions link above, the prominence looks to me like a large jellyfish with its tentacles falling down below it as it lifts itself above the Sun with the tentacles falling below  and touching the Sun.

The Sun is constantly emitting material out into space, sometimes with more bulk than other times, and it is these emissions than can pose a danger to astronauts in space as well as to Earth itself.

Were it not for the magnetic fields surrounding Earth that serve to deflect most of the emissions and radiation from the Sun, Earth would be sterile with no possibility for life forming. Scientists are currently putting a lot of resources into studying the Sun, its cycles and behavior. Solar flares often affect communication satellites, so attempts to predict these solar events are a prime objective of the missions.

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking spoke in celebration of NASA’s 50th anniversary Monday, asking “Why should we go into space?”.

“In a way, the situation is like Europe before 1492. People might well have argued that it was a waste of money to send Columbus on a wild goose chase,” Hawking told the audience at Georgetown Washington University in Washington, D.C. “Yet the discovery of the new world made a profound difference to the old. Just think, we would not have a Big Mac or KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken),” he added.”Spreading out into space will have an even greater effect. It will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.”

The vision Hawking described involved a long-term exploration project in space including a moon base within the next 30 years. Technology will need to be developed to speed spacecraft greatly so that we will be able to exit our solar system and explore others in a reasonable time frame so that the information gathered will be meaningful.

“It will not solve any of our immediate problems on planet earth,” he said, “but it will give us a new perspective on them and … Hopefully, it will unite us to face a common challenge.Going into space will not be cheap, but it will take only a small portion of world resources,” he said.

In his talk, Hawking focused on near-term possibilities, supporting NASA’s goals of returning astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and sending humans to Mars soon after that. “The Moon is a good place to start because it is close by and relatively easy to reach,” said Hawking. “The Moon could be a base for travel to the rest of the solar system,” he added. “Mars would be the obvious next target, with its abundant supplies of frozen water, and the possibility that life may have been present there at some point in the past”, according to Hawking.

“A goal of a base on the Moon by 2020 and of a manned landing on Mars by 2025 would restart the space program and give it a sense of purpose in the same way that President Kennedy’s Moon target did in the 1960s,” he said. Eventually, according to Hawking, humanity should try to expand to Earth-like planets around other stars. “No such planets are known so far. But even if only 1% of the 1,000 or so stars within 30 light years of Earth has an Earth-size planet at the right distance from its star for liquid water to exist, that would make for 10 such planets in our solar system’s neighborhood,” he said.

“We cannot envision visiting them with current technology, but we should make interstellar travel a long-term aim. By long term, I mean over the next 200 to 500 years,” he said.

First there was the 5.2 magnitude temblor in the early morning hours of Friday, April 18, more precisely at 4:37 am Central Time. Then five and one-half hours later at 10:14 am came a large aftershock of 4.6 magnitude, a mini-earthquake in itself.

Then this morning, April 21, at  12:38 am came an aftershock of magnitude 4.0.


Although most of us who live in the area are aware of the earthquake and the two large aftershocks; there have actually been 22 aftershocks in Illinois and the region of the initial earthquake.

None of the eleven aftershocks occurring since the magnitude 4.6 on Saturday morning have been very strong, in fact no one I’ve talked to have noticed them except for the larger aftershock early this morning.

Typically, most people do not have earthquake insurance coverage. These events of the last couple of days have no doubt caused many people to reconsider whether this is such a wise strategy, even though the possibly of earthquake damage is still remote. We just don’t experience earthquakes of any consequence very often. And as much as my house shook, nothing came loose or was damaged, inside or outside the house.

The record for earthquake magnitude in Illinois occurred on November 9, 1968. It was a magnitude 5.3 that was felt over 580,000 square miles in 23 states. Reports say that tall buildings in Ontario and Boston felt the shock.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a nice Richter scale graphic that you can select a magnitude range, and by clicking on that range a picture above the Richter scale vibrates according to the magnitude you select. This helps demonstrate how much a building, a tree or a car would shake under that particular magnitude.


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